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October 11, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Minnesota Twins

by John Perrotto, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade— whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Minnesota Twins—the first playoff team to exit—goodbye.

The overview

Ron Gardenhire went into the press room after the Twins were eliminated and mentioned that in spite of the nine straight losses to the Yankees in the postseason, he didn't feel as if the Twins were dominated; there were spots within all the games in the Division Series when Minnesota could taken control of a given game with a timely swing (Jason Kubel, Game 3) or pitch (Carl Pavano, Game 2). But in the end, the Twins went down again, partly because they were banged up—Joe Mauer and Jim Thome appeared to be nursing injuries, at a time when Minnesota was without Justin Morneau—and partly because of their lack of power pitching. The Yankees saw 68 pitches in Game 3 before one of them swung and missed, and that lack of stuff in the Twins' rotation has been a recurring problem in October.

Francisco Liriano ran out of gas at the end of the regular season, but during the summer, he had a Cy Young-caliber performance. Delmon Young had an excellent rebound season, after getting himself in better shape, and Danny Valencia was a revelation at third base, with his offensive and defensive production. And Thome mashed 25 homers, edging closer to 600 for his career.

The Twins expect that Morneau will recover from his concussion and return to his All-Star form, and the backbone of what should be another AL Central contender will be in place. But the Twins have to hope that Joe Nathan can recover from Tommy John surgery to be at least a plus for the bullpen, and if the Twins aren't able to re-sign Pavano as a free agent, they'll need to add at least one frontline starting pitcher. Already there is speculation in Minnesota that the Twins could be well-positioned to pursue Zack Greinke—who would fit the Twins' market—if the Royals make the right-hander available.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Mauer ended the suspense about whether he would be a lifelong Twin by signing an eight-year, $184 million contract that will keep him in his native Minnesota through the 2018 season. Liriano finally regained the dominating form he showed before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2006 by striking out 9.44 batters per nine innings and allowing just 0.42 home runs per nine. Thome provide a full season's worth of production in 340 plate appearances as he had a 1.039 OPS, a .350 True Average and 25 home runs despite Target Field proving to be a pitcher's park in its inaugural season.

What went wrong: The Twins have lost 12 straight post-season games, all to the Yankees in the ALDS round, leaving them one short of the all-time record set by the Red Sox from 1986-95. Morneau was leading the majors with a .360 TAv when he suffered a season-ending concussion on July 7. The Twins .693 Defensive Efficiency ranked a very ordinary eighth in the AL; they were particularly weak in the outfield.

The key number: 2. How many hits the Twins had in 29 plate appearances with RISP during the ALDS after hitting a majors-best .285 in those situations during the regular season. Ouch.

What won't happen again: The Twins getting swept in the ALDS by the Yankees. Sooner or later, the laws of averages have to kick in.—John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Funds: The Twins spent around $100 million on payroll this season but their commitments for 2011—about $72 million to eight players—may make it difficult to add an impact player over the winter. Kubel's $5.25 million option appears affordable and a relative bargain but the arbitration cases on Young, Denard Span, Liriano and J.J. Hardy could push the Twins to trade one or more of them to keep their payroll from reaching levels the organization does not wish to handle. General manager Bill Smith will have to find a second baseman to replace Orlando Hudson or spend the money to bring him back, and the club's bullpen may need some help with Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes hitting free agency. One idea is to look to move Young, who had a breakthrough season in 2010 and could make as much as much as $5 million via arbitration this winter.

Help for Francisco: Considering the issues Smith may have in patching the bullpen and finding an infield to play regularly with Morneau next season, it may be extremely difficult for the Twins to put together a starting rotation that figures to compete for the division title. Liriano was backed this by free-agent-to-be Pavano, but the right-hander may have priced himself out of Minnesota with a strong year. The Twins have Kyle Gibson in the minors near-ready for the show, and Scott Baker has always been a reliable mid-rotation arm, but Smith's creativity may be put on display this winter in attempt to strengthen the club's greatest post-season weakness. Perhaps giving up Young and a pitching prospect for an arm such as Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants could work for both clubs.—Jason A. Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

The Twins' top prospects are mostly too young to contribute in 2011, but after trading for Fuentes and Matt Capps to shore up the bullpen for this year's stretch run, there's some help coming from within. A 39th-round draft pick in 2006, Anthony Slama has continued to prove all doubters wrong with a career rate of 12.5 strikeouts per nine. Those that felt he'd be exposed at the upper levels looked foolish after his 2.20 ERA at Triple-A Rochester in 2010 that included 74 whiffs in 65 1/3 innings while limiting International League hitters to a .178 batting average. Like most Twins' pitchers, he's more polish than stuff, as he uses a deceptive delivery that allowed his low 90s two-seam fastball and solid slider to play up. While he's unlikely to close in the big leagues, he could get big outs in the seventh and eighth innings.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Minnesota Twins,  Twins

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